Three Advancements in Mental Health: A Reflection on Mental Health Month

May is Mental Health Month, and there is perhaps no greater driving force behind overall health outcomes than mental health. The foundation of our health outcomes in every other area can be improved or diminished by the state of our mental health. Here are three of the latest innovations that seek to ameliorate mental health concerns, with the goal of promoting an overall better wellness outlook for patients.

Artificial Intelligence and Mental Health

When a patient is suffering from a mental disorder, it complicates all other health outcomes. Overall well-being and mental health are inextricable, making mental health treatment one of the most important aspects of healthcare. Investment in mental health, while requiring an initial financial outlay, ultimately saves money that patients and payers would otherwise put toward the cost of care. Data science makes clear what physicians already know: positive mental health is the power behind all positive health outcomes.

Unfortunately, providers—who are most in need of information about patients’ mental health backgrounds—are often the last to know. “Mental health is such an important component of overall health, but its impact is often obscured or hidden from providers,” says Laura Kanov, head of HBI Solutions. “It impacts health risks in ways that you wouldn’t necessarily know without the use of advanced analytics. That’s why it’s important for your analytics tool not to be a ‘black box.’”

Kanov’s team found that individuals with an anxiety diagnosis are 150% more likely to visit the emergency room. These patients’ mental health records provide important information for their doctors—yet, that information is not always apparent from the condition they have or what they report, Kanov shared.

HBI Solutions and its emergency department risk modeling use artificial intelligence to improve point-of-care insights and research. This research improves patient care and helps justify better financial investment in improving mental health and supporting patients with mental disorders. Artificial intelligence tools can help physicians understand whether their patients need more support due to mental health issues, and providers can then plan their care around those needs, with insights that are neither intuitive nor currently available to most doctors at the point of care.

Online Resources and Mental Health

Most people are unaware of how many mental health resources are available online. Mental Health Center of Denver is a leader in innovative care delivery. This means its clinicians are able to reach and treat patients that other systems might miss. One way they do this beyond Denver is through online tools and resources, such as MyStrength, a free online course that anyone can join and use to set goals like “manage depression” or “quit smoking.” Mental health services are limited, and the more contact and support that patients can have between visits, the better. “We know that motivation and engagement in treatment make a big difference in people getting better,” says Wes Williams, PhD, vice president and chief information officer at Mental Health Center of Denver. “By leveraging technology to stay in contact with people between their sessions with their therapist, we keep people focused on their well-being and how they are doing on a daily basis.”

The use of online sources ameliorates a serious issue: the disparity of access to mental healthcare in rural and otherwise socially isolated areas, both in Colorado and nationwide. Remote access to affordable tools is key to improving health outcomes. Mental Health Center of Denver also provides online tools to help physicians and providers address mental health issues. They recommend one of the most downloaded classes on well-being, the Yale course entitled “The Science of Well-Being.” Courses like this and Mental Health First Aid” teach accountability and give patients the tools to improve their own health. Innovation in mental health services allows patients to have better support between visits and daily connection with their mental health providers.

Addiction and Mental Health: The Opioid Crisis

MCG Health, a health consultancy outside Seattle, Washington, has been at the forefront of creating resources for both providers and payers to combat the opioid epidemic—one of the most serious contributing factors to diminished mental health nationwide.

According to its whitepaper, MCG created special opioid-specific guidelines for behavioral health treatment this year, including new medication guidelines that describe the appropriateness of extended-release injection formulations of buprenorphine and naltrexone, buprenorphine implants and buprenorphine-naloxone. They’ve also created content for patients facing opioid dependence.

“The opioid epidemic in the United States remains in crisis mode,” says Douglas Kalunian, PhD, a psychiatrist and expert in behavioral health. “In recent years, legislation has been enacted, and several opioid prescribing guidelines have been published with the hopes of improving opioid prescribing practices and decreasing unnecessary use of opioids.”

Some stakeholders have said that opioid prescribing guidelines have been written with the sole aim of limiting the volume of opioid prescriptions, leading to the under-prescription of pain medications and patient harm. This leads to a separate problem: the refusal by pharmacies and insurers to authorize new prescriptions or refill existing ones based on assumptions of opioid abuse. Severe pain patients are being harmed by prescription refusal, and physicians are limited in their treatment. In this respect, health providers can find themselves torn between alleviating patients’ pain and yet not wanting to put them at risk for addiction, contributing to the epidemic at large.

On the other side, John Kapoor, founder of Insys Therapeutics, was recently found guilty of racketeering and bribing physicians to overprescribe opioids, a clear indicator that work still needs to be done to root out malevolent actors who might exploit opioid dependence for personal gain. Resources allow physicians to have freedom to use their expert judgement and allow for better care planning and treatment of opioid addiction. Leadership in creating guidelines that limit reckless use but allow for physician excellence is a step in the right direction for ending this epidemic.

Mental Health Month continues throughout the rest of May, offering an opportunity for providers to reflect upon and evaluate the ways in which patients’ mental health needs could be better served to improve overall health. As an industry, we need to create better tools to diagnose and treat mental illness and improve patients’ access to mental healthcare nationwide.

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About the Author

Janae Sharp is a physician suicide loss survivor and the Founder and CEO of Sharp Index, a nonprofit dedicated to better physician mental health. Her work includes healthcare data and analytics marketing to improve healthcare outcomes for the underserved. Janae can code, and enjoys making communication easier in tech production, but her true passion is in matchmaking companies to create elegant health IT systems and improve health. She has worked with interoperability and social determinants of health and is an expert on patient and physician engagement. Janae has three children, enjoys learning, hiking, triathlon, and quilting. Follow Janae Sharp on Twitter: @CoherenceMed.

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InterSystems blogs are authored by members of the InterSystems team as well as guest bloggers. Our blogs will provide a range of opinions that we hope you will find useful, engaging, informative – and fun to read.

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